Exclusive interview: President John Cox on 4Cs Online Higher Ed Programs

Cape Cod Community College plans to respond to the competition of online-only college programs
Cape Cod Community College President John Cox.

4Cs' John Cox talks about online higher ed programs

As online-only degree programs gather support, 4Cs will evolve

The state of Florida recently approved online-only higher education programs by its public universities, as reported by Reuters on April 27th.  That announcement marked an opportune moment to ask Cape Cod Community College John Cox about his institution’s plans to respond to the competition of online-only college programs.

It turns out that Dr. Cox is an experienced online educator himself, having taught virtual courses through both Kent State and University of Maryland University College.

Below is a piece written by Dr. Cox in response to our request to hear 4Cs’ plans to address online instruction.  Dr. Cox’s words are published exactly as he submitted them, with no editing or alteration of any kind. After reading it,please vote in our poll "Who would you most trust to provide an online-only college degree?"

Dr. John Cox’s words about online higher ed

The Board of Higher Education has the authority to authorize new programs for those institutions with a physical presence in the state. At Tuesday's BHE meeting, Western Governors' University had several programs on the docket for approval.

Since WGU has a footprint within the state with its clinical courses, they went through the approval process. 4Cs has the ability to develop articulation agreements for our students to transfer into certain programs to pursue bachelor degrees.

WGU offers competency-based education, which enables students to accelerate their programs based on previous education and experience. 4Cs enables students to take college level examinations to earn credit for previous learning. WGU provides another option for our students to continue on to bachelor and master degree programs while enabling them to work through life’s daily challenges, including access, location, and affordability.

4Cs does have online courses and looks to expand its offerings. Our movement to complete degree and certificate programs online involves further discussion and collaboration among our faculty while also continuing to examine the online environment. I have found, both as a teacher and student of online learning, that the hybrid or blended approach works very well. Blending a few classes or lab sessions with online classes works well in creating interaction and achieving student retention and success.

As 4Cs examines our future approaches to online learning, we will be addressing needs within the context of our broad mission. With the development of the MOOCs and the research presently underway through the Gates Foundation with Bunker Hill and Mass Bay Community Colleges, we are watching the outcome. In this model, the community college uses the EdX curriculum to broaden course offerings with college faculty facilitating the learning.

This expands the possibility of access to broad curriculum options to support both degree and certificate programs. At the same time, we need to recognize local scholarship and teaching that would be integrated into 4Cs’ courses and enable those opportunities to occur. The transaction between professor and student is critical for learning and engagement and central to the discussion of online education.

As the center of comprehensive higher education for our region focused on student success in degree and certificate programs, I look at online education growing in a manner to enhance the learning opportunities for our students. This is a work in progress, although lately with a more heightened focus, that involves several people in the discussion to be successful. When I span the environment and see all the current offerings available online, whether through public, private, or for-profit institutions, my first thought is, given what’s available, how can 4Cs position our students for success in an accessible and affordable manner.

Can we enhance current courses and programs, both in classroom, online, and blended? We have creative and capable faculty and staff that may be interested in creating additional online offerings and may want to make this work available to other institutions to enhance offerings and facilitate learning? We operate in a competitive marketplace with finite resources where we prioritize decisions.

Assuming our offerings cannot be endless, our issue becomes how can we leverage what is currently available and enhance the learning for the students of Southeastern Massachusetts? Clearly, there are courses and programs that we will enhance and grow, in classroom and online.

John Cox, Cape Cod Community College, May 2, 2013

Evolve or Face Extinction

Dr. Cox correctly notes that 4Cs operates in a competitive marketplace.  Bridgewater State University is apparently opening a satellite campus at the soon-to-be-closed MacArthur Elementary School in Yarmouth. 

Online-only university programs from outside the area already threaten to drain potential students – especially the lucrative “adult learner” – from the local higher ed market.  The population of Cape school districts continues to decline - reducing 4C’s potential recruiting pool by as much as 20% in the past decade.

More challenging still is the fact that online higher education is a seductive venue for those raised on iTunes, amazon.com and Netflix.  For those concerned with rising college debt, online college programs eliminate commuting and housing expenses, while allowing students the freedom to hold a job and schedule their course time around their work and family commitments.

We have seen evolutionary challenges like this first in the newspaper industry, then in the delivery of video content (remember video rental stores?), music and book sales. 

The evolutionary roadside is littered with the corpses of publishers and distributors that did not stay ahead of the curve.  We’ve seen this in school competition here on Cape Cod, as well, with student populations and public support shifting like the sands of a Chatham barrier beach.

Cape Cod Community College must evolve if it is to remain competitive in the local higher education marketplace.  President Cox appears to be paying close attention to what may become an extinction event for colleges and universities that do not evolve.

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